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Issues, policies and recommendations for improving the education of learners with autism spectrum disorders

by Simpson, R.L., Mundschenk, N.A., Heflin, L.J.

Simpson, R., Mundschenk, N. & Heflin, L. (2010). Issues, policies and recommendations for improving the education of learners with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 22(1), 3-17.

Objective: Autism is an idiosyncratic and highly distinctive when compared to other disabilities.  Educationally, questions regarding who should be teaching individuals with ASD, Where should individuals with ASD be taught, and what and how should they be taught.  The authors of this article seek to address these three core elements that are the underpinning of the education of individuals with ASD including the policies associated with these elements.  After reviewing the core elements the authors provide recommendations for improving the present educational system and proactive policy suggestions.

Results: In regard to who should be teaching children and youth with ASD the authors identify that in the era of highly qualified teachers that many professionals lack critical foundational skills and knowledge because they receive little direct, specific, and comprehensive training in evidence-based practices for children with ASD.  The movement toward noncategorical training increases the lacking scope and depth of training programs to produce qualified personnel.  Additionally, the authors acknowledge the multiple pathways that currently exist for prospective teachers to obtain their initial teaching certificate as being problematic.  The recommendations set forth by the authors in this area are:       

·        That all personnel who provide direct services to learners with ASD receive high quality and coordinated field experiences with students who fall across the wide range of the spectrum. 

·        Additional training in how to collaborate effectively is also required.

·         Preservice and in-service programs need to do a better job preparing educators to vet, select, implement, and evaluate evidence based practices.

·        Ongoing professional development in multiple formats should be provided by universities and school divisions.

·        Local, state, and federal policy makers need to provide the funding necessary to support public education

·        Graduates of alternative routes to certification should be held to the same high standards as those who complete the traditional programs.

Where should children and youth be taught is the second question posed by the authors. The continuum of placements is discussed as well as the individualization of the placement decision.  The law indicates that students be served in the least restrictive environment and be provided access to the general curriculum to the maximum extent appropriate therefore the authors recommend:

·        There is no universally appropriate or best site for the instruction of all individuals with ASD.

·        That school personnel exhaust all supplemental aids and services before moving to more restrictive environments.

·        Students should be educated in highly structured learning environments with low student-teacher ratios.

·        Bullying must be controlled within the educational setting

·        Educators need to enhance their proficiency in documenting student progress so informed placement decisions can be made.

·        A continuum of services and placement options must be made available to students with ASD.

Finally, What and How learners with ASD should be taught is addressed by the authors.  The authors acknowledge that there is notable disagreement over the instructional methods and supports that are most effective in teaching and supporting learners with ASD. Issues related to the instruction of learners with ASD are aligned with the subject of evidence based practices and research validated methods. With this in consideration the authors recommend:

·        That a variety of approaches be available to support the heterogeneous nature of individuals with ASD.

·        The features and characteristics of effective practices must not be overly narrow or restrictive.

·        Practical and functional guidelines and resources are available to stakeholders to assist in sorting through and systematically considering interventions and treatments that are appropriate and advantageous.

·        There must be recognition of the importance of creating structured learning environments and settings for all individuals with ASD.

·        Educators must be prepared to understand and implement evidence-based practices.


The authors conclude that the best educational experience for these students has three components:

1.      Every student with ASD must have appropriately trained teaching personnel

2.      Their education must take place in the most suitable setting, which is decided on a case-by-case basis

3.      The most effective research-based instructional methods must be employed



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